Physicians flooded with questions
May 12, 2009
The swine flu scare sent jittery people pouring into local health clinics last week fearing they had contracted the mysterious new illness.
"Initially, when the schools closed, that day there were quite a few patients being scared, and quite a bit of concern," said Dr. Bill Pidwell, a physician at Park City Clinic on Bonanza Drive. "All the news reporters in town created quite a bit of hysteria."
At least 35 cases of the swine flu have been confirmed in Summit County, health officials said this week.
"So far all the cases that we’ve seen in our clinic, in Park City and in mostly the entire United States have been very mild," Pidwell said about the illness that has killed several people in Mexico. "As soon as patients realized that this was in fact a fairly mild illness, the concern in general amongst patients dropped dramatically."
But symptoms like the sniffles that they would have typically ignored sent people streaming through the door at the Kamas Health Center more worried than sick, said Dr. Lisa Saturnino, a physician at the clinic in eastern Summit County.
"We had quite a number of phone calls and quite a number of office visits for respiratory illnesses," Saturnino said. "People were much more worried because of the scare of this new novel type of influenza and it definitely got more people in the door."
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Statewide at least 72 cases of the swine flu have been confirmed.
"[People] asked about the swine flu and if it was a real problem, or if it was something that was being hyped up to be a little more than it was panning out to be," Pidwell said. "We did what we could to try to prevent spreading it, but at the same time tried to reassure patients that even if they did come down with this, so far it was not a significant threat to the average healthy person."
The scare did not disrupt health care providers in Summit County.
"We saw quite a few of those initial patients," Pidwell said. "We could determine if it was influenza A, which is the subtype of influenza that swine flu falls under. If we did have an influenza positive case, we sent that to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] for confirmation that it was the swine flu."
The number of flu-related visits dropped this week at clinics in Kamas and Coalville.
"People, because of their travel to Mexico or because of their contact, had more concern than normal," said Melinda Roalstad, a physician assistant at health centers in Coalville and Kamas. "I think it was just a little bit of a lack of understanding."
People who weren’t ill realized a germy clinic was a good place to get sick, Saturnino said
"I saw a lot of patients the first week and then the patient visits that have been concerned about the H1N1 influenza decreased," Saturnino said. "People are staying away from groups and doctor offices because they don’t want to get the influenza."
The high concern did not surprise Pidwell.
"I have not experienced anything that developed quite as much hysteria amongst the public as quickly as this did and I think that the physicians and media probably played into that a little bit at the beginning," he said. "But once people took a second to look at the whole picture and realized that the threat was minimal, we were able to relay that to the public pretty quickly as more news media focused on the illness itself and less on the excitement of having a little outbreak."
The swine flu outbreak justified caution but not panic, Saturnino said.
"There is a chance that this influenza could change to a different type of influenza and that’s why we need to be cautious. I don’t know that we know everything about the illness yet," she said. "I understand that a lot of people feel that the action may have been too cautious, however, this is an example of how when there is an unknown, people get together and find a solution to provide safety for the people of the community."
The first case of swine flu confirmed in Summit County was a child in the Park City area who traveled to Mexico for spring break.
"There was definitely some concern when the people in Park City were identified as possible candidates, and then when it was confirmed, people needed reassurance," Roalstad said.